Monday, November 04, 2013

Becoming Shakespeare (2007)

Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright Into the Bard. Jack Lynch. 2007. Walker. 320 pages. [Source: Library]

I'm so glad whimsy led me to Becoming Shakespeare! This is a little book about how Shakespeare became SHAKESPEARE, the one and only. After all, in his lifetime, he was one of many successful playwrights in Elizabethan England. But he wasn't recognized as THE BARD during his life. His universal genius was far from recognized. In chapter one, "Reviving Shakespeare" Lynch discusses how Shakespeare's resurrection was due in part to the restoration of the monarchy. Before Charles II was restored to the throne, plays were banned; theatres were sinful, don't you know! But the oh-so-merry monarch changed the rules. New plays were produced, of course, during this time. But Shakespeare was revived as well. In chapter two, "Performing Shakespeare," Lynch discusses several centuries worth of actors whose claim to fame was due in part to playing Shakespeare roles. Notable actors mentioned include: Thomas Betterton, Colley Cibber, James Quin, David Garrick, John Philip Kemble, Sarah Kemble Siddons, Fanny Kemble, Mary Robinson, Dorothy Jordan, and Edmund Kean. Chapter three, "Studying Shakespeare" is the story of Shakespeare scholarship through the centuries. This focuses on publishing and editing and various editions, changes to the texts, etc. This chapter is not about censoring Shakespeare, that story is saved for another chapter. Chapter Four, "Improving Shakespeare," is about adapting or editing Shakespeare for the stage. This chapter focuses on producers changing or rewriting Shakespeare to meet their needs and satisfy their audiences. This included changing endings in some cases! It also included adding scenes, adding characters, adding lines. In some cases, these "new" editions of Shakespeare were produced on the stage for decades while the original play was not. So one's new-and-improved King Lear might be the only one seen by many generations! Chapter five, "Co-opting Shakespeare" is all about politics, about using Shakespeare lines or quotes for your own purposes, to prove your point or make an argument, as propaganda in a way. This wasn't a favorite chapter. But it had its moments. It discusses how people read politics into his plays. How they could watch a play on the stage and come away with an opinion about modern politics. Chapter six, "Domesticating Shakespeare" is about making Shakespeare family-friendly and safe for all ages. This is about censorship or "bowdlerizing" the text. Removing puns and innuendos and such. But this is also the chapter that talks about retelling Shakespeare the right way (Tales from Shakespear). Chapter seven, "Forging Shakespeare" is about writers or historians who have "found" or "discovered" documents (signatures, plays, poems, etc.) It is about various attempts to hoax the public and achieve fame. Chapter eight, "Worshipping Shakespeare" is all about celebrating Shakespeare making him larger-than-life in some instances. This is about cultivating and celebrating his legacy. For example, Shakespeare celebrations and Shakespeare-related tourist attractions.

I definitely enjoyed this one! Some chapters I appreciated more than others. Some I thought did a great job in capturing culture and society.

© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


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